ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Lions
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Source: © British Museum website

Lion as part of the tribute from Nubia
Source: The British Museum website
Source: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ostracon, ca. 1295?1069 B.C.E.; Dynasties 1920; New Kingdom Egyptian; Thebes
Painted limestone; 5 1/2 x 4 3/4 in. (14 x 12.5 cm)
Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926
Source: The Metropolitain Museum of Art
    The lion, Panthera leo, became extinct in Egypt in late pharaonic times.[1] Until then, wild lions were chased with chariots specially built for hunting, drawn by two horses. In the Teachings of Amenemhat the author claims:
I captured lions, I took crocodiles.
The Teachings of Amenemhat [2]
    The hunting prowess of Thutmose IV as a youth is described on the Sphinx Stela:
Behold, he did a thing that gave him pleasure upon the highlands of the Memphite nome, upon its southern and northern road, shooting at a target with copper bolts, hunting lions and wild goats, coursing in his chariot, his horses being swifter than the wind, together with two of his followers, while not a soul knew it.
The Sphinx Stela [3]

    Lions might represent the king or alternatively his royal enemy. The hieratic text of this Ramesside depiction (bottom picture) reads:
The slaughter of every foreign land. The Pharaoh, may he live, prosper, and be healthy.
    At times lions were kept as pets by the pharaohs. Ramses II was variously shown accompanied by his lion, [4] as was Ramses III. [5]

Leonine deities

    Sekhmet, depicted as a lioness, was goddess of love and protection, but also of vengence. In one version of the Eye of Re myth, it was Sekhmet who wreaked havoc among mankind. As Eye of Re Mut was depicted as a lioness, as was Mehit, the consort of Onuris, and Shesemtet. Tefnut, the primordial goddess of moisture, had the shape of a woman with a lion's head. The lion goddesses Menhyt and Bastet were honoured together with Sakhmet on the 16th day of the second month of Summer at Esna. Aker, the guardian of the entrance to the underworld, was at times depicted as a pair of lions, back to back facing in opposite directions.
    Even the tail of the lion, when attached to the royal apron, became a deity as Menkeret.
[1] Richard Hoath, A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt, American Univ in Cairo Press, 2009, p.95
[2] J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1906, Part One, § 483
[3] J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1906, Part Two, § 813
[4] J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1906, Part Three, §§ 450, 470
[5] J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1906, Part Four, §§ 49, 112, 122

© 2002
October 2009